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Toni and Rafa both knew that Rafa's forehand, whose height was lessened by grass and hard courts, couldn't do the job alone. Every dimension of his game had to improve. Toni would list his nephew's deficiencies, stroke by stroke, each time they faced Federer. "He's so much better than you," Toni would say, "but if you believe and work, you can win."[/I]
The truth, however, is that Camp Rafa is a fairly sophisticated operation. A Majorcan trainer, Juan Forcades, oversees Nadal's conditioning. Physical therapist Rafael Maymo spends much of his day taking notes on when and what Nadal eats; when he goes to sleep and when he wakes; how much time he spends hitting forehands, backhands and volleys. Toni, meanwhile, has harped on his nephew's weaknesses so effectively that even in the earliest rounds of last year's French Open, Rafa was scared of losing. Toni reassured him -- "You're Number 1 on clay!" -- but it didn't matter. "He never relaxes," Toni says. "He's so afraid for every match[/I]."
It did. Nadal's serves, which were then clocked at an average speed of 99 mph, are now traveling an average of 16 mph faster -- and he regularly hits the upper 120s on the radar gun. But it wasn't just a matter of hitting the ball harder. In fact, Toni says, one reason Federer had the upper hand in 2007 was that he pushed Rafa to serve with too much velocity, and the speed of Federer's returns threw off Nadal's timing. "So we had to learn other things," Toni says. According to Roddick, Nadal now hits to both sides of the service box on his first and second deliveries. "He can kick it, he can slice it," Roddick says. "You don't really know what's coming." Nadal finished last year ranked No. 1 in the world -- and fourth in serving, winning 88% of his service games.
No one can match Federer for artistry, but Nadal has two attributes just as valuable: imagination and the audacity to use it. "He's by far the smartest player of all," says seven-time Grand Slam champ Mats Wilander. "He's not afraid of changing. With a mind like that? There's no limit."
Federer did that in the Australian Open final, but only when desperate; the instant he felt he had gained the momentum, he went back to the game on which he built his empire -- and that Nadal solved long ago. "Roger still feels he's just better [than Nadal]," Courier says. "And, frankly, he's not."
Federer's breakdown just before Nadal received the '09 Australian Open winner's trophy was the most obvious sign of the shift, but there had been earlier indications. Asked the day before the final whether he relished another shot at his archrival, Federer said, "Honestly, I preferred the days when I didn't have a rival." Nadal had exhausted himself in a five-hour, 14-minute semifinal the day before, but as soon as the final began, Federer seemed out of sorts. Worse, unlike Nadal when he was No. 2, Federer didn't commit himself to attacking his rival, to shaking him out of his comfort zone. Twice Federer ran around his backhand and staggered Nadal with forehand winners, but he never did that again. "Twice in 4½ hours?" Wilander asks. "Why not show Nadal something different?"